Prof. Jennifer Roback Morse on Why Privatizing Marriage is Impossible


Today on Public Discourse, Jennifer Roback Morse explains why the state can't get out of the marriage business. This is the first in a three-part series from Morse on privatizing marriage:

We cannot escape the fact that marriage is an intrinsically public institution. We can’t avoid making collective decisions about its meaning and purpose. If we don’t do it explicitly, we will end up doing it implicitly.

As a libertarian myself, I have been quite disappointed that the “default” libertarian position on marriage has become little more than a sound-bite: “Let’s get the state out of the marriage business.” With all due respect, this position is unsound.

I will not be able to respond to this sound-bite with another sound-bite. The issues surrounding marriage are too deep. But I am not deterred from trying to persuade thoughtful readers who are up to the task of following a complex and unconventional argument wherever the search for truth may lead.

I make three points in this series of articles. First, in today’s article, I show that it is not possible to privatize marriage. Second, in tomorrow’s article, I show that the attempt to privatize marriage will not result in an increase in freedom, but will actually increase the role of the state. Finally, in the third article, I show that attempting to privatize marriage will perpetrate great injustices to children. Any of these reasons is sufficient to put an end to the “get the government out of the marriage business” mantra. All three of these reasons taken together form a compelling case for absolutely opposing the redefinition of marriage and for working tirelessly to create a robust cultural norm of one man, one woman, for life.